Say on an average day you’ll skim through the news whilst getting ready for work, pass through advertising-laden streets on your commute as you listen to radio, exchange e-mails with colleagues and texts with friends, and relax in the evening by watching a movie. In this single day, you’ve had more media exposure than our ancestors a few centuries back would have had over the course of months.
Nowadays, the media is all-pervasive: it is at home in our settlements and dwellings, it is firmly rooted in cyberspace, and occupies our thinking and communication to such an extent that many of us dread the very idea of going places where there is no Internet connection. Media is more than merely convenient, media is powerful. Our media habits and preferences have significant influence in determining what do we aspire to, who we trust, how we allocate our resources, and what we are afraid of.
Religion and the media go a long way back, and much of the technologies of media production, distribution and storage were perfected by people who wanted to spread the message of their faith. In Early Medieval Europe, monasteries housed the scriptoria in which illuminated manuscripts were produced. The revolution brought about by the invention of the printing press was backed by the efforts of humanists like Martin Luther who insisted on the value of education, literacy and critical thought. Or think about the beauty of church music and the rhetoric graces of inspired sermons…
There is no end to the list of breath-taking works inspired by religion, and though the examples I gave focus on Christianity, this applies to any of the world’s spiritual traditions. Wherever we look in human cultural history, there is a close association between faith and the multitude means of propagating its messages. Yet this relation is by no means unidimensional or entirely positive. As persons in a global society, we have witnessed the forceful silencing of messages of peace, the burning of books that were repositories of hope and knowledge, and the livid misrepresentations of religion in contemporary media
In the light of all this, it is most timely and relevant for this year’s Interfaith Week to revolve around the topic of Religion and the Media. I am Kate and am glad to be one of the event ambassadors. Having just finished a degree in anthropology and religious studies at the University of Aberdeen, this engagement is an opportunity to practice my skills of conveying cultural dynamics to a wider audience. Drawing inspiration from Marshall McLuhan’s thought “medium is the message”, I aim to deliver you pieces which are detailed, insightful and written from an open-minded perspective that invites questions. In these times when media can be so overwhelmingly everywhere all the time, it is important to remember that we are not passive consumers of information, and are entitled to produce and share our points of view.
My motivation for participating in this project is also very much suffused with the jovial atmosphere maintained by Interfaith staff and volunteers, with whom I have been involved for a year now.
Last autumn, when we were delivering Interfaith workshops in schools around Aberdeenshire, the pupils were more than eager to discuss questions related to the connections between religion and the media, which only adds to my excitement thinking about what is to come during Interfaith Week this year.
Watch out for what comes next!